Brian Mast, an Army combat veteran and Republican congressional hopeful, criticized his Democratic opponent for questioning how his military service qualifies him to represent Florida in Washington, calling his behavior "arrogant."
Mast came under fire from Randy Perkins, a businessman competing with him in Florida’s 18th congressional district, at a recent candidate forum for running on his military service. Perkins, who in August said he did not want to run a "negative campaign," was captured on video questioning Mast for "continually" discussing his military service during his campaign, saying that it does not qualify him to solve a number of issues facing, veterans, families, and seniors.
Mast, who lost his legs to a roadside bomb while serving in Afghanistan, pushed back on Perkins’ "very arrogant" line of questioning, telling the Washington Free Beacon in an interview last week that his 12 years on the battlefield allowed him to work with people from every background. Mast also highlighted how his experience in the military has helped him understand issues facing America’s troops and veterans, at a time when U.S. commitments abroad remain high and the federal government struggles to provide timely care to former service members and their families.
"He tried to say, ‘What about you serving in the military qualifies you to be a member of Congress,’ a very arrogant comment," Mast said when asked to reflect on Perkins’ questioning during an interview in Washington, D.C. "I always tell people—because sometimes people ask ‘what about your injury qualifies you’—and I always tell people there is nothing about being injured that qualifies me to run for Congress. It’s a good example of what my commitment is to this country, that I will give this country everything."
"I held our highest security clearances, I know very well what’s going on on the battlefield in terms of tying our soldiers’ hands with debilitating rules of engagement," said Mast, who worked as a bomb disposal expert under the Joint Special Operations Command. "I know what’s going on in the Department of Veterans Affairs because I am serviced by the VA everyday."
"I know what’s going on in terms of the phone calls that I get almost weekly from some peer of mine that wants to step in front of a truck or wants to go to sleep in their garage because of their [post-traumatic stress disorder]," Mast continued. "I know what’s going on in terms of vocational rehabilitation and job training skills and the ability for people to go out there and pursue higher education without coming out with massive loads of debt."
A representative for Perkins’ campaign declined to comment for this story.
The race for Florida Senate hopeful Patrick Murphy’s vacated congressional seat has pitted the combat veteran against the millionaire founder of AshBritt, an environmental cleanup company that has made its money working on debris removal following natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.
Mast’s military career is one part of his background that he believes makes him the superior choice to Perkins, who is running on his business experience. Mast also highlighted his post-military contributions to counterterrorism and national defense through work at several federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, where he served as an explosives specialist.
Mast suggested that Perkins’ reasons for running for office are financial. Perkins’ contracting company has been scrutinized for its cozy relationships with political figures.
"He has had extensive endeavors into politics and his every endeavor into politics has been to line his own pockets," Mast said. "There is no reason to think that him trying to become a member of Congress is nothing more than an expedited rout to him getting more government FEMA contracts for his company because that’s what he’s done in everything he’s done in politics."
Should he win in November, Mast plans to put his counterterrorism experience to use.
"Terrorist attacks like what we just saw … that’s my life’s work and there are not a lot of people up here that come to this from the perspective of literally having seen those devices as something that has injured you or seeing that enemy face-to-face, this move of jihadist Islamic terrorists," Mast said, referring to the New York-area bombings that wounded dozens earlier this month.
Mast also wants to work on matters related to transportation and infrastructure, given the district’s local environmental problems, as well as play a role in reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A survey conducted for the National Republican Congressional Committee and released earlier this month found the race virtually tied, with Perkins capturing 41 percent to Mast’s 40 percent.